The Alternative Alphabet, an engaging initiative by Memac Ogivly and GEMS Education to address mental health in youth
Posted on 2023 Jul,19  | By ArabAd's staff

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Memac Ogilvy PR has partnered with GEMS Education to launch The Alternative Alphabet, a tool designed to help teens understand the complex language of mental health.

There are a number of barriers to taking care of the mental health needs of the youth including lack of services, lack of awareness, myths, misconceptions and stigma and low priority to mental health. Schools and colleges, in particular, offer a unique setting for mental health promotion in young people. So it is no surprise to see an educational company and school operator like UAE-based GEMS Education keen for raising mental health literacy among its students. 

Therefore GEMS Education decided to partner with Memac Ogilvy PR throughout an initiative dubbed the Alternative Alphabet, designed to help teens understand the complex language of mental health.

The campaign follows exclusive research by the pair that showed seven in 10 teens won’t talk to peers about mental health. Moreover, 70 per cent of 4,500+ respondents believed more needs to be done to support teen wellbeing.

Directly addressing this, the pair partnered with Dr. Sarah Rasmi from the Thrive Wellbeing Centre and set out to create a deeper understanding of mental health—providing teens with essential related skills, allowing them to better identify, define, and discuss the potential challenges they may face.

To do so, they invented The Alternative Alphabet, which matches 26 letters with 26 words related to mental health. The alphabet was then gamified, introducing 26 original characters, launched to thousands across GEMS schools in the UAE.

The engaging card game enables adolescents to navigate their own wellbeing and offer support to their peers, while involving parents, guardians, and educators in the process. The pack includes 25 Action Cards, an instructions manual, and cheat sheet.

The multi-faceted campaign launched with an emotional and visually striking teaser film named 'The Mock Exam', shot on location at GEMS American Academy Dubai.

Following the release of the film, the partners unveiled the alphabet through an exclusive set of workshops where students were invited to play to game and provide feedback.

The workshops were turned into a second film, launched on social.

To conversation went significantly further than the classroom, with exclusive coverage on prime TV news, radio, and editorial. The team then invited 26 influencers, media personalities, athletes, educators, entrepreneurs, and healthcare professionals to each own a word from the alphabet that resonated with them, creating 26 unique conversations on social media.

Personalities from across the UAE sparked timely and important conversations under the hashtag #AlternativeAlphabet, showing vulnerability and openness towards subjects such as rejection, anxiety, tolerance, belonging, and others.

GEMS Education has received a high volume of requests for the game, while discussion around integrating The Alternative Alphabet into the curriculum itself are ongoing.

The Alternative Alphabet has since become digital and is available online for anyone to download and play free as part of GEMS Education's mission to safeguard the emotional, physical, and social safety of adolescents across the region.

The 26 characters of the alphabet will continue to be used in the mission to increase knowledge and communication of mental health challenges in the future.




Agency: Memac Ogilvy

Joe Lipscombe

Kassandra Panagiotopoulos

Mina Kiwan

Saakshi Khubani

Dana Al Kateb

Hussein Krayem

Jad Irby

Celine Nammour

Tina Arab

Maxim Betisor

Juan Encarnado

Elias Dahdouh


Client: GEMS Education

Hfu Reisenhofer

Jon Bramley

Zeina Al Saeed

Benita Adesuyan

Christine El Cheikh